I walked into Ah Meng with a growing appetite and curiosity. A ‘jungle breakfast’ seemed like a wild idea, something that I had skipped the first time I visited Singapore Zoo. The dining area at Ah Meng (named after the rescued Sumatran orangutan who was an icon) was open on all sides. A small stage to one side had several tables arranged in a circle around it. I piled my plate with warm eggs, fresh fruits and some syrup-laden waffles and found a seat.
As soon as I popped a piece of fruit in my mouth and started chewing, the show began. Lead by the call of a friendly anchor, orangutans began sweeping in, swingin’ and callin’, one after another. It was their mealtime too. It turned out to be breakfast with the champs, if you get my meaning. Later, as we took a tram around the zoo, zoning in on flamingoes, tigers, lions and more, the orangutans followed. They have the run of the park and exercise their freedom vigorously, leaping from one branch to the next.
I would highly recommend spending a day each at Singapore Zoo and Jurong Bird Park. The other two wild experiences, Night Safari and River Safari are relatively compact but no less interesting. We spent a whole day at the zoo, first selecting which activities and shows we wanted to attend and planning our itinerary accordingly. We spent a memorable day feeding melons to white rhinos, apples to elephants and leafy vegetables to giraffes.
I even braved an hour at RepTopia (the reptile zone), despite my deep-seated phobia of lizards. Their Keepers' Chit-Chat programme, a session where visitors can interact with the animals and talk to their caregivers, was underway. The staff fed the reptiles with practiced ease and even offered us a go. We fed fruit flies to frogs on a stick and watched enthralled as the keepers fed little mice to snakes. They told us how they cared for their slithery wards, and all the safety measures in place. For instance, they have designated safe areas for visitors in case (shudder) one of the reptiles should leave their assigned homes.
I would love to tell you more about the lizards, but I have diligently scrubbed it from my memory.
The next day, I visited Jurong Bird Park, the oldest of four parks under the WRS (Wildlife Reserves Singapore) umbrella. While the other three parks are situated within walking distance, Jurong is further away, though there are talks of bringing it closer home.
The bird park is massive and a lush habitat in its own right. Our first activity? Feeding the penguins some much-deserved fish. Putting on some gloves to keep the stench off, I picked a fistful of tiny fish and waited patiently as they waddled towards us, swooping in on the food excitedly.
Afterwards, we headed to another Keepers' Chit-Chat session, this time with Sally, the hornbill. Sally sat prim and proper on the keeper's arm, as we oohed and aahed at the majestic creature. She was friendly, eager to shift arms and come to us. She performed a few tricks and responded to commands. The keeper spoke about the bird's vibrant yellow colour and its wings and casque. It was fascinating learning about Jary, the hornbill that had received a prosthetic casque after its rescue. Jary had taken to the 3D-prosthetic quite well, colouring it yellow with pigments from its preening gland.
Our next stop was the Lory Loft, Jurong’s walk-in aviary. At the entrance, each person was handed a cup of nectar. There are over 10 species of lories and lorikeets. They came over to have a sip when they spied the cup in our hands. Decked out in bright reds and greens, these little birds are especially friendly and playful. As I fed them, I wondered about the effort it would take to move all these birds and their habitat to a new location. But of course, if anyone can do it, it's WRS.
One of my favourite bits was trying my hand at falconry. With leather gloves snugly fitted around my hand and a piece of meat as an offering, the birds of prey were quick to zone in and clutch my wrists. Their wings fluttered in tandem with my heartbeat until the raptor started chomping on the meat, my presence more or less ignored.
For once in my life, I didn't mind being ignored.
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